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The first thing I want to say here is that I think Roger Goodell has a tough job. He’s the head of the most popular sports league in the country, and he has the unenviable task of dealing with some serious problems that the league’s popularity helps hide. The issues Goodell faces are big enough to destroy the National Football League if left unchecked.
Having said that, it is my considered opinion that his approach to handling these issues is wrong. Dead wrong.
I understand my specialty is investigating crime, and while there may or may not be specific “crimes” involved here, I can say that during the time I had Goodell and the NFL under surveillance, I couldn’t find the “smoking gun” type evidence to support actual criminal charges. But I certainly found enough to justify an on-going investigation, but more importantly, I discovered why the NFL has all the problems that it does. To anybody who is paying any attention, it is obvious that under Goodell’s leadership, the NFL has really become a totalitarian regime willing to engage in some seriously nefarious, if not borderline criminal activity in a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union under Stalin.
To understand why Goodell is little more than a hypocritical dictator, look at the major problems facing the NFL now and match that against Goodell’s handling of them.
First of all, there’s the whole Bounty-Gate issue. I know this blog has posted pieces saying the whole drama created over the New Orleans Saints and their bounty system was much ado about nothing, but the fact that Goodell shipped Jonathan Vilma off to the gulag with a complete absence of due process and while giving Vilma cause to feel he had been defamed has led to the Vilma’s filing a lawsuit against Goodell and the league. It’s just like that time that little weasel of a prosecutor Gary Bevins tossed me in the federal slammer for contempt. I almost bought it getting shanked in prison all because I tried to exercise my right under the 5th amendment.
Then there is the matter of the lawsuit filed in federal court by a group of former players claiming that the league did not perform its due diligence in informing players of the dangers of concussions or their moral duty to take care of players battling the results of that negligence.
To top it all off, there’s the matter of the lawsuit filed in federal court yesterday by the NFL Player’s Union (NFLPA), which amongst other things, alleges the NFL owners imposed a secret “salary cap” in the 2010 season, which was supposed to be uncapped.
Did the NFL and its teams secretly impose a salary cap of $123 million in the uncapped 2010 NFL season? Were teams threatened by the league with “serious consequences” if they exceeded the secret cap? The NFLPA asserts yes to both questions, and earlier today filed Reggie White, et al. v. NFL, a collusion lawsuit against the league in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The players contend they lost $1 billion because of the secret salary cap; as stipulated by collectively-bargained language, such damages, if proved, would be automatically trebled to $3 billion.
Regardless of whether or not you think these suits have any merit, there’s no denying that Goodell has got himself backed into a corner. Football is a violent game comprised of sheer speed and raw brutality, and the league has marketed that to the extent that the NFL is a multi-billion dollar per year business empire. Given that, it is really hard for me to believe that anybody can be surprised at the existence of a Jonathan Vilma. I would bet you there’s at least one in every locker room in the NFL.
That runs smack into another problem. Now that the spotlight is being shined on the question of how the cumulative effects of this violent game contribute to debilitating brain trauma, Goodell found himself faced with a lawsuit from former players and the discovery of the existence of a bounty program which could give any lawsuit about the violence and danger of playing football some serious creedence. In other words, Goodell found himself at the head of an empire built on a culture of violence; a culture which produces billions of dollars in revenue every year. But Goodell also found himself in the position of trying to keep everybody’s interests on the same page despite the fact that the money is ripping everybody apart.
And now, for the real turd in the punchbowl…it now seems that Roger Goodell may have been involved in a plot to keep player salaries down and that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was forced to accept part of such a plot.
While this is happening in America, this is just like the end of the Soviet Union. The USSR was this monolith that nobody ever thought would collapse, but it fell like a house of cards once the individual member states saw there was no longer a future in communism; once they saw they could get to greener pastures by their own devices. Due to how wildly popular the league is now, nobody seems to be noticing the cracks developing in the monolith that is the NFL, least of all its’ “Kommissar,” Roger Goodell. This is exactly why he is acting like a dictator in charge of a crumbling empire.
I will be the first to admit this all gets a bit confusing. The NFL sells itself as America’s sport and its’ wild popularity disguises the fact that the sport has some major problems. The people running the NFL, namely Kommissar Goodell who is making up rules as he needs them to exploit his leverage over everyone and everything in football, embodies exactly the sort of greed and arrogance that’s slowly chipping away at America in general. But like they did in the Soviet Union, the real story was hidden behind obfuscation and propaganda. Goodell is getting away with this because in America, we just don’t seem to care about things that are either hard to understand or that we just don’t want to be bothered with. This is pretty much why it is easy to paint any major success in American business with the brush of greed and arrogance, and guys like Kommissar Goodell open the paint cans for us.
Think about it. Right now, you have the former players suing the league because they want money. This is happening largely because the former players no longer believe the player’s union or the league have their interests at heart. The Vilma situation proves the existence of a cash-payment system designed by players to take out other players, which means the player’s don’t have each other’s interest at heart. Then there is the matter of the NFLPA’s suit against the NFL, which means the player’s and the owner’s don’t have each others interests at heart. Given all that, one can’t help but notice how everybody is after money; and they don’t really seem to care about the football.
And at the top of all of it, there is Kommissar Goodell. At the same time, he is charged with keeping this monolith together while his actions are deepening the cracks. it. The fact that the Goodell basically collaborated with the players’s union to renege on a promise to fund a major increase to the pension plan for retired players led to one lawsuit. On top of that, Goodell went on a Stalinist purge once the bounty situation became public; Vilma is just one of several guys who got sent to the NFL’s version of Siberia, basically on nothing more than the whims of the Kommissar and the NFL’s “best interests.”
That’s the real problem here; there is simply no established policy guiding what Goodell does. Almost every decision Roger Goodell makes is based on little more than what is best for which ever interest he is trying to protect that day, which is a great way to get every decision you make vulnerable to a challenge in court. And as the years pass, guys who rule like Goodell only get more wrapped around their own axles from the sheer inconsistency of their dictates.
Realistically speaking, Goodell’s problems are only going to multiply from here. Right now, the relationship between the league and the players (both past and present) is in the crapper, and that’s only going to get worse as we edge toward the next time they go through the collective bargaining process. So, the only thing Goodell can do to make the collapse of the league more likely is to start jerking the owners around.
Oh, wait…he’s already done that.
If you recall, back in March, the Cowboys and Redskins were both penalized a combined $46 million in salary cap space after they spent freely during the uncapped NFL year in 2010, which also happened to be the final season of the league’s old collective bargaining agreement. This gets complicated, so let me start with a time line of events, because this was four years in the making.
- 2008: Owners agree to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement and agree play the 2010 without a salary cap.
- 2010: The Redskins spend $178.2 million on salary; The Cowboys spend $166.5 million.
- 2011: The NFL brokers a new collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union (NFLPA), which just so happens to include a “secret” provision where the NFLPA agrees to a punishment for the Cowboys and Redskins in order to avoid a league-wide reduction of the salary cap number.
- 2012: The NFL slaps the Redskins with a $36 million salary cap reduction and similarly hits the Cowboys for $10 million, citing “competitive balance” concerns over the amount of money the teams spent in 2010.
Those bullet points don’t really do justice to the double-ended screw job Goodell laid out for everybody. Let’s walk through it in detail, and as we do, don’t forget that there was no salary cap in 2010, which meant there was no limit as to what team’s spent on salary.
In other words, Washington and Dallas are being punished now for “breaking” a rule that didn’t exist at the time. They took advantage of a situation not of their creation by front-loading player contracts (paying the bulk of money in the uncapped year in exchange for paying less in later years which would be capped). Seemingly, everyone should have been happy with this arrangement; the players didn’t mind because they were getting paid either way, the owners didn’t mind because they would receive a discount on future salary cap hits. We know this was true because nearly every team in the NFL used this tactic, but the Redskins and the Cowboys led the pack.
The second problem is using the collective bargaining agreement ratified in 2011 to enforce anything which happened in 2010 is what is known in legal circles as ex post facto law, which virtually guarantees any challenge to such enforcement would prevail in any court. In other words, even if the NFL warned Washington and Dallas not to break a rule that didn’t exist, Snyder and Jones both have lawyers who told them there was no harm and/or risk in using this cap loop-hole.
The third problem actually is actually quite biblical. In the Book of Genesis, God created the tree of knowledge and then told humans not to touch it, in just the same manner Kommissar Goodell created the salary-cap loop-hole then warned owners not to use it. When God was asked why humans could not touch the tree, the response was largely based on “because I said so.” This just happens to be the same logic Goodell is using with Snyder and Jones. The problem comes in the fact there is absolutely no legal way to make “because I said so” stand up in court.
Given all that, why haven’t Snyder and Jones hauled Kommissar Goodell into court? The answer goes back to the question I posed a few paragraphs back. I’ll give you one last chance to guess the “magic word” which answers both questions.
Think of it in this context. Under the guise of compromise, Kommissar Goodell and the NFL claim the signatories to the collective bargaining agreement agreed on this punishment for the Redskins and Cowboys. The distinction between the “signatories” and the collective bargaining agreement itself is important, because the collective bargaining agreement contains no such language. This is why the “deal” to punish the Redskins and the Cowboys was done on the down-low.
So, let’s put all the pieces together. We have a collective bargaining agreement that was clearly to the benefit of the owners, we have a salary cap loophole which was allegedly created to draw a compromise between the league and the NFLPA, and we have a Kommissar who is actively looking to clip two of his most high-profile and richest owners.
What’s the magic word that ties all these pieces together? Collusion.
Collusion refers to two or more teams, or the league and at least one team, acting in concert to deprive players of collectively-bargained rights. Under Article XXIII of the expired CBA, the NFL and NFLPA affirmed that teams would not conspire, either explicitly or tacitly, to keep salaries down. The two sides also agreed that if they failed to reach an agreement on a new CBA before the 2010 season, the 2010 season would be played without a cap, though with more restrictions on free agency.
It becomes clear if you work the puzzle this way. The uncapped year was not about giving teams the ability to front-load deals; it was more about allowing teams to cut spending without taking hits against a salary cap that didn’t exist. This can only mean there was, for lack of a better term, a “gentlemen’s agreement” amongst the owners to drop player salaries. That’s your textbook definition of “collusion,” and the NFLPA knows it. Remember this, it becomes really important later.
If you doubt that, consider the following. In 2009, under the old collective bargaining agreement, every NFL team was required to spend $107 million in payroll. One would assume spending would have remained the same in the following year except for one over-arching fact. Since 2010 was the uncapped year, it was also the year without a salary floor. This is exactly why seven franchises spent less than $107 million, and one franchise made sure they spent over $30 million less.
Let me be very clear about this. The NFL owners agreed to an uncapped year in 2010 so they could opt out of the collective bargaining agreement and renegotiate a more favorable revenue split with their next deal, which they did. The “gentlemen’s agreement” was supposed to be that nobody would take advantage of this uncapped year, as it was intended to be an illusion to get the player’s union to play along; after all, the NFLPA would love to get rid of any salary cap. The real reason for the existence of the uncapped year was that it would also be without a floor, which allowed owners to slash payroll at will, which many of them did.
Backed by Kommissar Goodell, the owners all agreed to abide by the “spirit” of the now completely imaginary salary cap. 100% pure, uncut, USDA prime collusion; there’s no other way to describe it. The problem came when Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder realized that Kommissar Goodell and the other owners had no real way to keep them from breaking the “gentlemen’s agreement.” This monkey-wrenched the plan “uncap” the year without actually uncapping it. See, the minute somebody broke the agreement, the league would be right back to the days of a payroll “free-for-all,” with the winners being the guys with the biggest wallets, like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder.
This led to the series of stern, albeit impotent warnings from the Kommissar about not taking advantage of the uncapped year. Jones and Snyder knew they had legal cover for backing out of the “gentlemen’s agreement,” but they didn’t realize that the Kommissar had a NKVD-style plan for dealing with them. After all, what good is it to be a Kommissar if you can’t hold a pistol to somebody’s head?
When the Cowboys and Redskins didn’t play by the NFL’s unwritten rules, Kommissar Goodell went back to the owners and forced them to agree that something needed to be done to punish owners Jones and Snyder.
To do this, the Kommissar needed to create a justification for the NFL’s punishing the violation of non-existent rules and for essentially being a redistributor of wealth; a sporting Robin Hood who uses blackmail rather than a bow and arrow. Not only does he need to give himself a reason for such treachery, but that justification also needs to provide cover for activities which would normally get any enterprise sued out of existence.
To understand this justification, you have to understand the Kommsisar’s mindset. Ignore the teams that spent less than a mythical salary floor that season and focus only on the two teams that broke the “agreement.” Ignore the original collusion of the owners and by all means, don’t ask the question about how the owners got the NFLPA to go along with a scheme that would ultimately lower player salaries. Above all else, ignore the fact that the NFL is more concerned with driving down player salaries than it is with it’s fascination with so-called “parity.”
Once you do all those things, you can buy the Kommisar’s twaddle about the actions of the Redskins and Cowboys constituted “an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance.” The league says it all themselves…
“The Management Council Executive Committee determined that the contract practices of a small number of clubs during the 2010 league year created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance, particularly in light of the relatively modest salary cap growth projected for the new agreement’s early years. To remedy these effects and preserve competitive balance throughout the league, the parties to the CBA agreed to adjustments to team salary for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. These agreed-upon adjustments were structured in a manner that will not affect the salary cap or player spending on a league-wide basis.”
Competitive balance? That’s a load of complete bullshit. Kommissar Goodell cares about “competitive balance” about as much as Lee Elia loved Chicago Cub fans. “Competitive balance” is just another way of saying “we care about the little guy.” Naturally, in the case of the multi-billion dollar per year NFL, that’s a bunch of crap. Ask yourself a question. If the Cowboys and Redskins were taking advantage of an uncapped year to spend more and try to win, isn’t it just as injurious to “competitive balance” to take advantage of an unfloored year to spend less, tank the season, and pocket the profits?
But if you want to be Robin Hood, you must act like you care about the poor.
Pretending to be benevolent is the bread and butter of totalitarianism, “I’m just trying to help you people” is the standard underpinning for all these types of arbitrary dictates. But no matter how much the Kommissar cloaks himself garb of the savior, his garment can’t hide the complete bullshit he is dealing. The bottom line is Goodell has put himself in the business of making up rules as he needs them, then applying them retroactively, all in the name of “compettitive balance.”
It doesn’t require the FBI crime lab to expose this as the crapola it is.
It’s Kommissar Goodell disguising himself as the God of all things football. He’s got a league full of owners willing to go along with a scheme designed to drive revenue sharing and guaranteed profits every single year. It would have worked had Snyder and Jones stood still for it.
It’s collusion disguised as “competitive balance.” One owner defended the penalties by saying Snyder and Jones “…was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap….” Not to belabor the point again, but there was no salary cap. In order to violate a salary cap in 2010, there would have had to have been a de facto cap which had been agreed to by the owners and kept secret from the players.
It’s socialism disguised as capitalism. Don’t forget that “revenue sharing” means the Snyders and the Jones of the world get to pay the frieght for franchises that don’t make any money…”here, Bill Bidwill, have $10 million dollars of Robert Kraft’s money.” Don’t forget this all started with the Kommissar arbitrarily deciding to redistribute $46 million of salary cap room for the sake of “balance.”
There’s another aspect to this as well. For a moment, forget about “competitive balance” and “competitive advantage.” Forget about collusion. Part of this is about getting even. Snyder and Jones didn’t go along with the plan, and now you’ve got 30 other owners pissed off at them for being double-crossed. You have Kommissar Goodell pissed off because Snyder and Jones both essentially told him to go piss up a rope. I’d bet even the NFLPA would love to get a piece of these two, but they are too impotent to wage a battle with anybody.
Under the Kommissar, the NFL has become a world where the league thinks screwing with two of the richest, most powerful, and most visible owners is a good idea. The Kommissar has deluded himself into believing he can continue to get away with strong-arming guys like Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones with hollow, barely-enforceable crap like “I don’t like the way you do business and you didn’t do what I told you,” then conjure retroactive punishments which have absolutely no legal basis, then literally daring them to do anything about it.
Ultimately, this will be his downfall.
Kommissar Goodell is ruling by dictate, and is keeping his power through sheer bullying. Ruling through fear and intimidation only works for a while. There’s already a player willing to drag him into open court. Now the NFLPA is leveling the collusion charge in open court. Eventually, there will be an owner who will wrap the Kommissar in legal documents as well. Snyder and Jones filed an appeal of the salary cap penalties; the dispute went to an independent arbitrator. However, this arbitrator upheld the penalties handed down by the Kommissar largely on the principle Snyder and Jones were appealing a ruling that the NFL and NFLPA had both agreed upon.
This arbitrator’s decision almost certainly guarantees the future of the NFL will be decided in a courtroom. First of all, now every owner knows that if they have a beef with the Kommissar, they will need to go into 0pen court because it will only be in court where the fraudulent nature of Goodell’s regime can be exposed. The arbitrator even said that himself. In his ruling, arbitrator Stephen Burbank noted “this is arbitration, not litigation” and the the the appeal filed by Snyder and Jones “assumes power in the System Arbitrator that does not exist.” If that doesn’t ensure an owner will at some point sue the league, this quote from Burbank defines the final nail in the litigation coffin.
“…if the Clubs are dissatisfied with the representation of their multi-employer association, they retain whatever remedies against the association under contract and agency law.”
That’s legalese for “if you don’t like my decision, sue.” In other words, Snyder and Jones and Redskins easily could sue the NFL.
They can’t, because in order to challenge Kommissar Goodell’s edict on the salary cap reductions, at some point in open court, the dirty little secret about the aforementioned “gentlemen’s agreement” is going to come out. There’s is far too much at stake to hand the NFLPA a “smoking gun” potentially worth $4 billion.
They can’t because because the scrutiny which would come with a federal lawsuit brought by two of the league’s highest profile franchises could change the league’s power structure forever, if for no other reason that the current 10-year collective bargaining agreement for which so much blood was spilled could get chucked if the NFLPA can prove it’s claim of collusion, which means the players can petition to have the CBA nullified since it was negotiated in bad faith. The trouble is that successfully proving a collusion claim necessitates actual evidence, rather than merely allegation or inference. If Snyder of Jones sued over the salary cap punishments, then every e-mail, memo, voice-mail, video, or whatever documentation entered into evidence in such a proceeding, even the court transcripts themselves become available as evidence for the NFLPA’s suit. It would also introduce potentially incriminating statements of witnesses.
Kiss that “10 years of labor peace” goodbye.
The likelihood the NFL’s destiny will be ejudicated is only increased by the fact that this decision garrisons the Kommissar’s belief that his rule is absolute. Given the problems simmering in the league, and given the Kommissar’s belief that his power in the NFL is limitless, there’s only one way this can end. Jones and Snyder can’t sue the NFL, but someday, some owner will.
And that could be what finally brings down Kommissar Goodell and the NFL’s Berlin Wall.
This is only the start of why the NFLPA’s suit is so dangerous for the NFL and Kommissar Goodell. I think that for NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, this is personal. Not only did Goodell and the league spend the summer of 2011 bending over Smith and the player’s union prison-style, but thanks to Yahoo! Sports we know that at the very end of the CBA negotiations, Kommissar Goodell and 30 NFL owners put a gun to Smith’s head by adding a provision to the CBA which forced the NFLPA to agree to the salary cap penalties for the Cowboys and Redskins. The gun came in the form of good, old-fashioned blackmail; if the NFLPA didn’t agree to the punishment of the Cowboys and Redskins, the other 30 owners would lower the salary cap across the entire league.
Getting the agreement of NFLPA was crucial, because this has been Kommissar Goodell’s vindication, if not justification, for the league’s bullying. One can argue that preventing a salary cap reduction is just the act of a union looking out for the best interests of its members, but it did so at the expense of its own members. The union didn’t seem to care about all the players cut from those seven teams that cut payroll in 2010.
That brings us full-circle. Like I said at the beginning, it matters little whether you are an owner, a former player, a current player, or even the Kommissar. Everybody’s interest is now money, which is why the future of the NFL is a likely to play out in court than on the field.
It is very possible that the Goodell regime will not be remembered for the era of continually rising profits, but rather for how it ends. The longer he stays in power, and the longer he is successful in his totalitarian tactics as NFL Kommissar, the more arrogant this his regime will become, and the more likely the regime will meet an unseemly end. It’ll be a black day for everyone when eventually the league ends up in court for some arbitrary dictate Goodell inflicted. Ultimately, the day will come when a judge (not some arbitrator) will get a close look at what Goodell has been doing, and somebody will get a big-time settlement.
The first successful settlement has every opportunity to start a cascade effect, meaning there could be a wave of people looking to get their piece of the Kommissar. This will only mean more investigations, with more and more sordid details of the activities of the Goodell regime being exposed for all to see. This will all hit “critical mass” the day some politician realizes that a league which has a long record of lawsuits and is full of publicly-funded, multi-hundred million dollar stadia certainly looks worthy of a series of high-profile congressional hearings like the kind that did such great things for baseball.
I hope I’m wrong about this. I really hope I’m not watching Roger Goodell starting the beginning of the end of the NFL as we know it. While the NFL is incredibly popular now, there are some seriously ominous clouds on the horizon, and it is Goodell’s totalitarian style which is bring the heavy weather. Someday soon, I’m afraid that everyone associated with the professional football in America will suffer because it is being run as if it were a Soviet republic.